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Company sanctioned events, such as holiday parties, can be a great way for companies to celebrate the season. However, they do bring with them concerns around appropriate behavior, safety, and liability. These concerns usually focus on the consumption of alcohol but the legalization of cannabis has introduced a new complexity.
Canadians can now possess and consume cannabis as long as they are obtaining cannabis from a legal source, are of legal age in their province, and are consuming within provincial regulations and municipal bylaws. This can mean that an employee at a holiday party could choose to consume cannabis and could potentially be impaired by cannabis.
Companies will need to decide how they are going to manage this new legal substance at company sanctioned events, just as they do with alcohol to ensure that employees behave appropriately, get home safely, and to protect the company from liability.
So, how do employers address this for the upcoming holiday season?
The New Reality
It is common for alcohol to be served at holiday parties. Now that cannabis is a legal, recreational substance in Canada, companies are faced with the challenge of defining their expectations on cannabis use at company-sanctioned events. A company may choose to allow alcohol consumption and not cannabis but this could be viewed as a hypocritical particularly since many companies view alcohol and recreational cannabis similarly when discussing how to manage them in the workplace.
Drug and Alcohol Policy
A great place to start is by reviewing the company’s drug and alcohol policy, which will set expectations about impairment in the workplace, possession of impairment causing substances, and conduct at company sanctioned events. Companies will need to define their expectations on the consumption of alcohol at parties, and what their message will be about the consumption of cannabis.
It’s recommended that employers have a policy about Company Sanctioned Events. This policy can be a part of the drug and alcohol policy or a separate policy. The policy should outline what the expectations are at Company Sanctioned Events for behavior, conduct and consumption of any impairment causing substances.
The policy should focus on the concern for employee’s safety and well-being at and after the event but also communicate that employees can face consequences for their conduct. Be clear about expectations around impairment, conduct, behavior and getting home safely at the end of the event.
Companies that conduct drug and alcohol testing will also want to consider the impacts of alcohol or cannabis consumption on their employees’ ability to pass a test. This doesn’t mean that alcohol and cannabis consumption would need to be banned but employees should be made aware of the consequences of failing a test if cannabis or other substances are detected after the holiday party. This is particularly important with cannabis, as it can show up on a urine test for weeks following consumption.
It is our opinion that where the company has a safety sensitive environment and drug testing is done for cannabis, the company should act in alignment with its safety culture. This means not encouraging or allowing cannabis consumption at parties. A company should communicate proactively about why they are taking this approach – and explain to employees that they are acting in alignment with their safety policies and do not want to promote an environment where employees could fail a company-imposed drug test.
Another consideration for the consumption of cannabis at a holiday party is the provincial and municipal regulations on consumption and possession. Rules on public consumption vary by province and municipality.
If public consumption of cannabis is prohibited by the province or municipality then employees should not be consuming cannabis at the company holiday party, as doing so would be considered a violation of provincial regulations or municipal bylaws.
However, if you are in a province and municipality that has allowed public consumption, then an employee abiding by the bylaws would not be violating any rules and the company would, in turn, have some responsibility to safeguard that employee from harm, just as they would with an employee who consumed alcohol at a party.
Cannabis stocking stuffers anyone? It is now legal for an adult to gift cannabis to another person of legal age.
A gift exchange is a common holiday team-building activity. Giving a bottle of wine or other alcoholic product is a common practice in gift exchanges. Companies will want to consider what this means with cannabis now being legal. If employees are allowed to gift alcohol they may assume that the exception would extend to cannabis. A company could choose to allow both alcohol and cannabis to be included in the gift exchange, they could ban both, or they could choose to allow for one and not the other. Allowing alcohol but not cannabis could again be viewed as hypocritical.
Regardless of the approach that a company chooses to take to cannabis, the number one concern for any party should be the safety and well-being of the employees and guests. To help ensure attendees behave appropriately and are safe, employers can look at doing a number of things, including:
- Clearly communicating expectations around conduct at holiday parties prior to the event.
- Communicating expectations around consumption and possession of cannabis and alcohol. This might include expectations around appropriate gifts at a holiday gift exchange.
- Communicating the policy on drug and alcohol testing and the consequences for failing a test, even if consumption was permitted at a holiday party.
- Ensuring you know the bylaws and regulations around cannabis use at the party venue and that you advise your employees on them.
- Arranging transportation options and communicating them to your employees prior to and at the event. This could include:
- Having taxi chits available or options for Uber.
- Arranging for designated drivers to be available.
- Arranging for other designated driving services or having phone numbers for such organizations as Operation Red Nose, Keys Please, etc.
- Arranging for discounted hotel rates at hotels in the area.
- If an employee is impaired at the part, address it immediately, do not wait until they are ready to leave.
- If an employee or guest is impaired and is intending to leave make sure they are using a safe option for transportation. Request their keys if they are insisting on driving and if they refuse and get in their vehicle to drive, call the police immediately.
- Ensuring that your leadership team is following the communicated expectations for behavior and conduct.
- Having appropriate liability insurance in place.
Although legal recreational cannabis is new to Canada as of October 2018, impairment is not. The approach an organization has with impairment should be no different whether it is alcohol, cannabis or any other substance. The main focus at holiday parties should be enjoying the season with your colleagues in a safe and respectful environment and ensuring everyone gets home safely.